I am grateful to have the inspiring story of Stephanie Devine. Stephanie is a bc survivor and also decided to change her life around significantly after the experience. It is wonderful to hear of women going on to do such incredible things post-bc. Thank you Stephanie for sharing your story and please check out her website.
Stephanie’s New Life
With a mother who had died at the age 49, I had never really expected longevity, however, my diagnosis of breast cancer as a fit and active 41 year old terrified me. Being diagnosed with cancer made me look at my life in a way that I never truly had.
It made me realise that if I didn’t change and put myself first for once, then I might actually die. At this point, I don’t think I had ever felt so strongly my determination to live, and so I made huge, drastic changes, which included leaving my ten year marriage and going through chemotherapy and radiotherapy alone.
Although I had extensive chemotherapy during which I was very ill and hospitalised twice, I got through by taking every drug that anyone threw at me, and by taking every opportunity to walk up and down Bondi Beach and feel the sand between my toes. What also helped me was finding some beautiful things to wear that reflected my own personal style and didn’t make me feel so much of a ‘patient’, simple things like a cashmere beanie and an attractive, hard-found non-wired bra. I felt very strongly that I had been robbed of my identity, and the final indignity was having to put things on my body that I would never normally wear. It just seemed to compound the sense of being ill and different.
In terms of support, I was happy to stay with a friend and be looked after, and I really only had the energy to maintain a couple of friendships beyond this. My wide circle of friends and family all wanted to do things for me, but for my own sake, I had to disregard their needs and allow myself to live how I needed to live to get through. The few people close to me communicated with the outside world to let them know how I was. I know this isn’t the way for many people, but I needed the space.
Back to work
When treatment was over, despite being bald and thin, I raced back to my thriving headhunting business to prove to myself and everyone else that nothing changed. Clients gave me lots of work, happy to see me back. But I was very tired, and negotiating phenomenally large salary packages for bankers during the 2007 boom, started to make me feel quite sick. I felt my life had very little meaning and contributed nothing. When I compared what these young guns earned to what I imagined the extraordinary oncology nurses who deck themselves up in virtual space suits to administer extremely toxic chemotherapy drugs to those who would otherwise die, it just made no sense.
One day, a superwoman client and mother of three sounded exhausted, but told me she was fine, because she had a week’s holiday booked in October. It was May. This conversation really consolidated how much I had changed. Previously, I would have thought like her, but now I knew that the only thing we have for sure is today, and tomorrow we could get the call that changes life forever. Nothing any more was to be taken for granted, every day had to have value.
I took a step back and a side-step out. I spent time overseas with my family and travelling and I worked less. Fortunately, the GFC, which decimated my industry made it easier to do this. I continued to work in the industry in a smaller capacity whilst nurturing a business idea that was dear to my heart. Since my treatment, I had longed to provide a place where young women like myself, could find the things they needed in the few days before their life changed forever. I had been incredibly frustrated not to be able to find beautiful non-wired bras in a D cup. They were readily available for maternity, but having learned I would never have children after chemotherapy, this felt like a slap in the face.
A new future
Without realising it, I didn’t plan a future for five years. The day I took my last tamoxifen and celebrated the end of nearly six years treatment, I finally understood that subconsciously I never thought I’d reach this day. I broke down in tears thinking of all that I had lost, as well as that which I had gained.
Within two months, I put my search business on hold, and went to China to source factories that could make me the cashmere products I wanted during treatment, and to the lingerie tradeshows in New York. Three months later, I launched Essential Luxuries for Cancer of which I feel immensely proud. It is exactly what I wanted at that time, and also what my family and friends needed to support me. Whilst I doubt I will ever achieve the financial wards of my past life, I love what I do and the feedback I get, and I am passionate about changing the experience for people going through treatment.
Getting cancer young felt so unfair, and I felt for a long time that my body, in which I had invested so much, had betrayed me. With the benefit of time, I see it as something of a blessing. It gave me the courage to change my life beyond all recognition. I’ve done heaps of therapy and been forced to face some of the major traumas of my life that I had suppressed, and which may well have contributed to my illness. I will never know what caused my cancer, but I know that now I live my life more authentically than ever, and that every day has to have meaning. This helps me move forward in the knowledge that I’m giving myself the best chance for a healthy future.